On the corner of South School Avenue and 15th Street sits a neighborhood pub that epitomizes everything that’s right about Fayetteville. Laid-back and unpretentious, with a clientele from all walks of life, Tanglewood Branch Beer Company provides the residents of our fair city a place to kick back with a pint of beer and enjoy the company of others. I had a chance to visit Tanglewood Branch recently as a part of my ongoing “research” into Northwest Arkansas’ emerging beer scene.
It was early in the afternoon when I pulled into the parking lot at Tanglewood. Parking can be tight, but wasn’t an issue on this particular day. The south side of town has a reputation as being a bit rough around the edges, but the former “Petra Station” has been scrubbed and polished and now presents an appealing aesthetic to the outside world. One of my favorite Thai restaurants – Thep Thai – is a few doors down on the other side of the busy intersection. The revitalization of South Fayetteville is now underway, and Tanglewood can be credited with supplying some of the momentum.
It was gorgeous outside that day, with temperatures in the low 70s. The front doors of the pub were kicked open to allow the breeze proper passage inside. Inside a group of men talked about the game of Frisbee golf as they sipped on their beers. A spontaneous card game broke out at one of the many tables scattered throughout. Later on I would run into Jack McAuliffe – a pioneer in the modern brewing movement who recently relocated to Northwest Arkansas. As the founder of New Albion Brewing, Mr. McAuliffe has been called the “Father of American Craft Brewing” by many in the industry (including Boston Beer’s Jim Koch and Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman). Since moving to the area he has become a fixture at Tanglewood Branch. We’re lucky to have him living among us!
Artwork adorns the walls at Tanglewood, with a healthy number of beer signs hanging here and there. A pool table and plenty of board games are available to help beer drinkers pass the time. The vibe is very relaxed – almost begging you to take your shoes off and stay a while. Jam band tunes can be heard over the pub’s stereo system, or if you’re in the mood to select your own songs, a digital jukebox can be found opposite the kitchen.
At the J-shaped bar I found around 20 taps with house beers and other commercial offerings. Noteworthy among the guest beers were Green Flash West Coast IPA, Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale, Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale, and Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA. Fellow Fayetteville brewery Fossil Cove was also on tap – demonstrating the harmony and camaraderie that can usually be found in the brewing community. They tend to support each other instead of engaging in cut-throat competition. How awesome is that?
The only Tanglewood brew available that day was the Southside Porter. Served in a mug, the beer was an opaque black in color. The tan head quickly dissipated into a thin layer of foam. The nose was subdued but had a roasted character. The taste was very much that of a traditional “Robust Porter” – slightly sweet and roasty with a clean bitterness. Underpinning the flavor profile were notes of chocolate and coffee. Owner and brewer J.T. Wampler told me that the beer was crafted with Marris Otter, black malt, chocolate malt, and Carapils (to provide some head retention). Bitterness was clean on the front end, and the Goldings hops provided gentle, floral qualities in the taste and aroma. English ale yeast rounded out the beer with a full, fruity flavor. The beer was well-balanced and highly drinkable – a great example of the style. This is a hearty beer, full of flavor. Light lager drinkers beware!
Wampler was kind enough to give me a tour of his pub, with a behind-the-scenes look at the brew house. Currently brewing three times per week, he is able to produce around 25 gallons per brew session. There are plans to eventually expand brewing capacity to three barrels at a time, or roughly 95 gallons. But for now small batches are his forte. One of the most impressive features of the pub is a huge cold room behind the bar that provides room for kegs of beer to condition. Wampler also keeps a personal stash of unique beers from across the world in the cold room (shh…don’t tell anyone).
Tanglewood Branch is a little off the beaten path for most, but definitely worth the trip. Visit the pub on Mondays for its famous bacon happy hour, or on Wednesdays for ale served on cask. You may also want to mark your calendar for the week of Christmas, when Wampler tells me a special “Christmas Tripel” will be offered to thirsty patrons. Whenever you visit, you’re sure to experience one of Fayetteville’s true gems – a comfortable ale house that demands you check your pretentiousness and stuffy attitude at the door.